Regular readers will know that my intrepid assistant Nicola is currently trekking across the Himalayas to raise money for children’s hospices, as you do.
She’s been preparing for this for almost a year – in fact, the first thing she said when my colleague Charlotte and I told her she had the job was: ‘Fabulous. Can I have time off in March to walk across Nepal?’ Luckily, Charlotte and I are generous employers and we agreed she could spend all her lunch breaks and holidays doing this.
But I digress. The point of this is to explain that I am flying solo again, and even though I know this is temporary – she’s only gone for a fortnight! – I have been quietly going to pieces, looking at the mountains of forms, and requests for meetings and briefings, and wondering how on earth I managed without her.
So my beloved husband (and ace literary agent) Ian Drury decided to take my mind off how much I have to do and how little time by making us behave like Real People: he announced that we were going out for the evening – and not to a glamorous publishing party or a packed launch event, which would count as work, but to an actual paid-for event, and paid for with our own hard-earned cash at that.
What’s more, we had to brave the wilds of west London, for a close personal friend had been loudly recommending the Theatre Lab Company’s truly excellent performance of Oresteia at the Hammersmith Riverside Studios.
For those of you who are not intimately familiar with the works of Aeshylus, this is a trilogy of plays written (I am assured) for a festival of Dionysus in Athens in 458BC (so yes, more than 2,500 years ago).
Luckily for me – I freely admit my classical Greek isn’t as fluent as it might be! – TLC had elected to use Ted Hughes’ lyrical and gripping translation, augmented by music and sound effects by Daemonia Nymphe on ancient Greek instruments seldom heard these days. (Okay, that’s enough background. Ed.)
The first, The Agamemnon, is the story of the great king’s murder by his wife Clytemnestra when he returns home, victorious, from the siege of Troy. Clytemnestra is (understandably, I think), miffed that Agamemnon couldn’t win by himself but felt it necessary to appease the gods (Artemis in particular) by sacrificing their virgin daughter, Iphigenia, in exchange for fair winds.
The second play (this is the name I can never remember) is The Cheophoroi, featuring Orestes, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra’s son, all growed up and come home to take revenge for the death of his father, egged on by his sister Electra. They do at least admit that Daddy offed their sister, but don’t think that his actions deserved the sort of eye-for-eye revenge Clytemnestra and her lover doled out. (Oh. Didn’t I mention the lover? I have to admit that lessens her case a little. But just a little: virgin sacrifice, guys!)
As soon as Orestes does the deed (taking out the lover as well) he exits, stage right, haunted by the Furies (no, there’s nothing furry about them at all: these are howling females, and they are there to avenge the deaths of mothers . . .).
The final part, The Eumenides, is the trial: and this is the point of the classics lesson: Orestes rocks up in Athens, where he is put on trial for the murder of his mother. The Furies prosecute; he is defended by Apollo, and Athena decides his innocence with her casting vote: but what we’re really watching is the invention of trial by jury.
So my endless service at Snaresbrook Crown Court just a couple of weeks ago is as a direct result of the gods getting involved when an angry son disses his mother . . .
It’s amazing the things you learn . . .